“I am her teacher.” I lied.When she entered my room as a young five in kindergarten she acted as though she was at least eight. She read at a third grade level. She kept me on my toes. Correcting me in her sweet voice when I said something incorrect. She wanted to learn to multiply in kindergarten. Honestly, she could’ve handled it but it wasn’t necessary yet. So we did three digit addition and subtraction with regrouping. Yep, third grade standards. She was a smartie. She would sit and read for hours if you’d let her. Even in her final days she wanted to be read to. The last day I saw her she asked me to read to her. I stood by her bedside in the pICU and read for hours. She would close her eyes. So I stopped reading. She popped those big brown eyes open and told me to keep going. She wanted to be challenged. She liked learning. She missed school so, so much. She wanted to skype with her friends while they were in class. She wanted to be a normal second grade kid.
Our bond was one that many didn’t understand. I was her kindergarten teacher. But we were so much more than a student and teacher. In first grade she would get very tired. Especially on Mondays after gym. So she would come and rest in a cot in my office. Her mom and I became good friends. I photographed her family many, many times in the three years I knew her. She came to see my son in the hospital when he was born. We had mid day texting conversations when her parents had to step out of the room so she wouldn’t be lonely. We played games. We shared stories. Oh, how she loved to hear stories about my dog and my son. Her mom will tell you that she remembers every detail of ever story I have ever told her.
I loved her. She loved me.
Three days a week. I toted my over packed, ridiculously heavy teacher bag and drove to Riley. Once I was to her room I unloaded, reloaded, and sorted through all that I had brought and planned for us to do that day. We packed a game to play for a break, grabbed her crayons, laptop, blanket, water, Kleenex box, chapstick, and her shoes and off we went to the school room as she pushed her pole down the long halls. Some times we would race. We took different routes to see who would get there faster. I let her win. She knew I did. She always knew when I let her win. Her parents will tell you that she had me (and many of the doctors and staff members at Riley) wrapped around her little finger. We did our best to learn each day. It was hard. Some days her pump beeped constantly and nurses flowed in and out. Some days she had fevers or was so tired we just read stories and she closed her eyes. Some days she was super energetic and I could barely keep her interest peaked. Some days we snuggled. Some days we drew. Some days we sang songs and listened to music on my phone.
Truth be told, some days I’m not sure she learned much. But I did.
If you’re a teacher then you’ve heard the saying, “Everything I needed to know in life I learned in kindergarten.”
For me, that isn’t true.
Everything I needed to know in life I learned from Leah.
She taught me patience.
She taught me to be kind… no matter what.
She taught me to be honest, even when it’s hard.
She taught me to give everything your all even when you don’t feel like it.
She taught me to keep going when you think you can’t.
She taught me to laugh out loud – at everything.
She taught me to smile even when it hurts.
She taught me to cry if you feel like crying, laugh if you feel like laughing, and smile if you don’t wan to laugh or cry.
She taught me that age doesn’t matter. Even at seven she was the wisest and kindest person I have ever known.
She taught me that family is the only thing that matters.
She taught me that sometimes you just need to slow down and smell the roses.
She taught me to love with all of your heart.
“How do you know Leah?” They asked.
“She is my teacher.” I thought.
Three years. Three long and hard years. Leah has fought. Her whole family has fought.
When Leah was diagnosed, I didn’t know her or her family. When I got my job at North Salem I had no idea how this little girl would steal my heart. I first met Leah at Meet the Teacher night two days before she began kindergarten. Leah, her dad and her siblings all attended Meet the Teacher Night. This was my first year teaching kindergarten and it was the half day program. Her dad spent the whole time I talked chasing her brother. She and her sister sat at a table and colored some pictures. Her dad stuck around afterwards and waited for all of the other parents to ask their questions and clear out of the room; all the while chasing her brother. (If you can imagine a grown man trying to squeeze through the tiny door on a wooden playhouse to get a tiny child out you will understand why this memory is forever etched in my brain).
Her dad ran through a list of all the concerns that he and her mom had and everything I needed to know. To be perfectly honest, I was terrified. I was so nervous that I wouldn’t remember to clean her area and she would get sick because of my lack of cleanliness. Little did I know that her classmates would take care of this for me!
The following day I met with her mom and some other staff members to go over specific needs for Leah. Still, I was terrified that I would mess something up. That I would cause her to get sick. That I would let her play too rough at recess and her port would get dislodged. Afraid that I would push her too hard and she would become exhausted.
Leah was in my class for 180 days. She rarely missed a day. Leah never complained. She never asked for special treatment. If it wasn’t for her adorable silky head wraps that covered her smooth scalp, you’d never know that she had Leukemia. The only day that she complained she ended up having an ear infection.
This girl is the strongest person I know. She is my hero. She is, without a doubt, an overcomer.
Throughout this journey along side Leah and now that I have taken over her caring bridge site so many have thanked me for updating and told me what a blessing I am to the Leah and her family. The fact is: this isn’t about me. This is about Leah. I am blessed to know her and be right there beside her through this journey. I have become a better person from just being there and witnessing the strength of Leah and her parents. What really struck me was a nurse asked how I knew the family. I replied that I was her teacher. The nurse acted shocked that a teacher would come visit their student in the ICU. What teacher wouldn’t?!? Yes, it’s hard to see her like that, but if seeing me puts a smile on her face then I will be there at the drop of a hat to hold her hand or to (try to) comfort her parents.
*For the record, her parents now just tell people that I am a friend of the family because that gets less strange looks.*
Her family has taught me that no matter what, family is most important. They have taught me that just because someone in your family has a disease that your life still goes on and doesn’t revolve around the disease. Through this journey I have been reminded just how important it is to ask for help when you need it and that small town communities are amazing!
Spending my days with Leah has opened my eyes. By taking the time and spending a few hours a couple of days a week with her she has had a touch of the normal childhood that she so desperately longs for. Leah has a heart of gold, is incredibly artistic (she’s been trying to teach me how to draw someone other than stick figures for 2.5 years!), an infectious laugh, and a smile that lights up a room. Her big brown eyes have a persuasive affect on all that encounter her. A while back my son was in the hospital with RSV and I wasn’t able to go see Leah. She text me several times from her hospital bed at Riley throughout our hospital stay that she was thinking about us and that she hoped Eli would get better soon.
She truly is the strongest and bravest person I have ever known. Please join the thousands of prayer warriors in praying for Leah and follow her journey at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/leah-wasson
Keep fighting, baby girl!
This year I have watched this baby girl fight for her life. I have seen her at her highest of highs and lowest of lows. I have seen her smile radiate when she was able to go home and reunite with her brother and sister in the comfort of their own home. I have watched her snuggle with her mom and shed tears because she just wants to go home and be a regular seven year old. I have seen her ride a bike up and down the halls of Riley one day and lay in bed too exhausted to leave her room the next.
2 years, 10 months, 4 days she has fought. Her battle is not yet over.
So what do I want for Christmas? The only thing I want is for her to win her fight against Leukemia. She needs a miracle. I know it isn’t something that one can wrap and place under a tree. But think back to the first Christmas. Wasn’t it all about miracles? They do happen. Every single day.
That is exactly what Leah needs. A miracle. She needs to defy all odds. My hope, my prayer, my one Christmas wish, is that she will get that miracle in the coming months.
Please join me in hoping, praying, and wishing that Leah will get her miracle.
A week to the date that I decided to extend my leave, Leah relapsed. Her mom was panicked about how she would stay caught up on her schooling. I assured her that if the corporation approved it, I would do her tutoring.To be really honest, I had no idea what I signed up for.
Yes, I knew that it meant I would be going back and forth between Leah’s house and Riley. I knew that it would not be easy to see her in pain some days. I knew that the schedule would be all over the place and that some days I would get there and Leah just wouldn’t feel up to working. I knew that it meant planning lessons while my son napped. I knew that it meant toting a giant bag back and forth. I knew that it meant having to get really creative to keep Leah engaged. But it was a task that I wanted to take on and knew that both Leah and I would enjoy it.
What I didn’t know is how much I would realize just how blessed I am. Walking the hallways of Riley Children’s Hospital is not easy. Every. single. person. is fighting a battle. Every. single. person has a story to tell. You can look in the eyes of the parents and see the pain and agony they are suffering. You can see how scared they are but that they are putting on a brave face for their child. You can look in the eyes of the child and see how badly they yearn to just be a *normal*child. You can see that they just want to break free of the walls that confine them. They want to feel the sunshine on their face and the wind on their skin.
I have found that from the second I close my door walking in I am slapped in the face with reasons to count my blessings. I have a healthy child. I have five healthy nieces and nephews. My extended family has eighteen (soon to be 20!) healthy children. How on Earth am I so blessed while others are fighting for their lives? I pray continuously on my walk from my car to Leah’s room that each family I pass will get the miracle they are hoping and praying for. That the test results for whatever battle they are fighting will come back better than the time before.
While my journey as a stay at home mom is nothing like I pictured it, I am reminded each day that I walk those halls just how fortunate I am. And when I return home, I snuggle my baby boy a little bit longer and a little bit tighter and thank God for all that he has provided for us.